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Improving your Critical Thinking Skills

Everyone has their own concept of the world, of how they interpret and predict stimuli. This “concept” is underpinned by their philosophical approach to life. Whilst philosophy may seem to be a branch of knowledge best left for academics, the truth is we all utilize some form of it.

It surprises some people when they are told they use philosophy in just about everything they do – even science. The way we gain knowledge and enquire about it is greatly impacted by how we view the world.

In the UMAT, you will encounter questions that require you to evaluate a study and make assumptions. This means it is imperative that your critical thinking skills are up to scratch before the day of the UMAT arrives.

Important key terms:

Before we introduce any theories of thought, it is important to define some key terms relevant to critical thinking:

  • Reliability: reliability is a method’s ability to produce consistent results if the study was conducted multiple times.
  • Parsimony: Parsimony refers to the idea of “keeping things simple”. Rather than having a long and complicated explanation for the results of a study – is there a more simple and straightforward one?
  • Generality: refers to whether the results obtained from this study be generalized to the population.

Theories of thought:

There are many theories of thought in philosophy. They can be lined up in a spectrum. On the opposite sides we have positivism and relativism. You may find that you fall somewhere between these two theories. These are briefly outlined below.

The concepts of order, external reality, reliability, parsimony and generality are understood differently in relativism and positivism. Positivism believes definite facts can be established and certainty can be achieved. Relativism, on the other hand, believes what is “true” depends on the circumstances of the situation.

Positivism:

Positivism is based on the idea that knowledge can only be gained from observable and measureable things. An observer must view the object from a detached and neutral perspective. This means personal beliefs and external factors are irrelevant during observation.

The theory suggests that any observable phenomenon can be understood and explained in a logical way if there was sufficient knowledge about the situation.

The scientific method:

It is the underlying assumptions of positivism that create the basis for the scientific method. Understanding the scientific method is key to tackling questions in the UMAT that requires you to analyse or interpret results in a study. Below are some assumptions that underpin positivism. Think about how they can apply to your UMAT prep as you are reading them.

 

Order:

Positivism suggests the universe has an inherent order. Understanding the universe can be achieved through drawing links between causes and events. This knowledge can be used to predict future events.

External reality:

Positivism believes everyone shares the same reality. It is assumed that knowledge can be shared and verified. A simple example of this measuring the length of a line in centimetres – regardless of who measures it, the length is still going to be the same.

This means when evaluating a study in the UMAT, you should see whether the results have high replicability. That is, whether it will produce similar results if it was conducted again.

Reliability

Positivism maintains that humans can depend on their senses and methods of thinking where careful observation and logical thought has been used. It suggests that our memories are accurate.

Parsimony

Positivism believes the simplest explanations are the best. A theory should not be cluttered with unnecessary complexity. This is particularly important when tackling pattern questions in the UMAT – is there a simpler answer available?

Generality

Positivism suggests results of a study are not entirely useful if they are only relevant to those particular set of circumstances. Results obtained from a study must be able to be generalized to other sets of circumstances. This may include predicting future results. In terms of critical thinking for the UMAT, this translates to whether the results from the study can be used for a different set of circumstances.

Relativism:

Relativism suggests it is impossible for anyone to observe things detachedly as we are influenced, whether subconsciously or consciously, by personal experiences, viewpoints and social values.

Relativism is particularly useful for humanity subjects. Whilst the scientific method is useful in analysing and predicting things in a systematic and logical manner, it does not take into account external factors – that is, inconsistences, conflicts and differences in beliefs. These are aspects that make up what it means to be human.

This is particularly important when it comes to the ‘Understanding People’ questions in the UMAT. You will have to interpret passages and understand the subtleties of language.

Relativism also very heavily relies on communication. Communication differs from individual to individual, from culture to culture. Differences in the meaning of words or gestures due to cultural differences can give rise to conflict. This is particularly important for questions in the UMAT where you have to interpret the actions of an individual and their effects on others.

 

Listed below are a set of assumptions that underlie relativism:

Order:

Relativism believes order is dynamic. It is changes as our own human perceptions of life, society and beliefs change. Despite the amount of knowledge we gain, a definitive understanding of world order will never be reached. Ultimately, our perception of the order of the universe will be influenced by societal and personal values.

External reality

Relativism suggests that we look on the world from within ourselves. Everyone already has a picture of the world, and it is through our feelings and understanding that we interpret this picture to create our own reality.

Reliability

Relativism is based on personal interpretation and memorization of stimuli. Our senses can be fooled and influenced easily – either by personal or cultural values. Our memory is not 100% accurate. Researchers therefore cannot rely on their senses to give definitive records. However, our skills of reasoning can be taken as a reliable method of organizing data and ideas.

Parsimony

Relativism believes life and society cannot be summed up in a simple explanation. It is rarely possible to sum up any situation in a neat formula. There is the risk of oversimplification.

Generality

Relativists do not believe that individuals should be categorized. The uniqueness of each event and person should be valued. It is also this uniqueness that makes predicting future events difficult. Relativists believes it is dangerous to generalize from studies.

Relativism also very heavily relies on communication. Communication differs from individual to individual, from culture to culture. Differences in the meaning of words or gestures due to cultural differences can give rise to conflict. This is particularly important for questions in the UMAT where you have to interpret the actions of an individual and their effects on others.

So what is the point of this?

You will need to think about this for the UMAT. There are many ways of analyzing a situation. Each method is usually based on a philosophical approach that influences the way you interpret the data and the conclusions you come to. Your philosophical approach to understanding the world is a key factor in your interpretation. Of course, the approach you choose will depend on what study you are analyzing in the UMAT. You may end up using different methods for different types of questions.

Ultimately, being aware of your philosophical standpoint is important. It influences greatly how you approach each question on the UMAT.

 

Useful links:

http://umatpracticequestions.com.au/

http://www.umat.net.au/free-umat-sample-questions/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time management in the final year of school

The final year of school can be a tough year. If you want to do well and obtain entry into your chosen course, you have to put in the effort and work. On top of assessments and exams, there is also UMAT preparation. How do you fit it all in? We have tips for you below on how to optimise your time.

UMAT preparation is a subject

A lot of students find it a difficult task to manage all their subjects and do UMAT preparation as well. But the process can be made easier starting with a simple mindset change. Treat UMAT preparation as if it were one of your subjects. By thinking of the UMAT this way, you will be reminded to study for it regularly. This could mean doing UMAT revision every night. If you want to get into medicine or other health fields, you have to remember that your ATAR is not the only factor taken into account. The UMAT also plays a significant part. In fact, a good way to look at it is that the UMAT is a subject that has its exam earlier in the year!

Setting time limits

A good way to include UMAT preparation as a subject is to set a time for doing practise UMAT exams. Have certain weeks where you will do a practise exam – school holidays might be ideal. Spend some time before that week studying for it by attempting some drills and reading the section guides at your own pace. Not only does this strategy make you study for the UMAT, it also develops self-directed learning. Learning in universities is independent. Lecturers do not regularly remind you of up-coming assessments or help you stay on top of what you are learning – it is your responsibility.

Splitting your time

It is easy to lose track of time when all you are trying to do is get on top of assessments. This can lead to spending too much time on one subject but not enough on others. Therefore, it is a good idea to set a maximum limit on each subject. By having a maximum limit of about 4 hours per subject, you can fit more into one night’s worth of study time.

The ATAR

The ATAR is calculated by taking into account the scores of your top four subjects and 10% of your next two subjects. This means the maximum number of subjects that goes into calculating your ATAR is six. Depending on which state you live in, English may be a compulsory subject included in your top 4, as is the case in Victoria.

If you are studying more than 4 subjects, the following tips when applied together may help you divide an appropriate amount of time to each subject.

Scaling –

Some subjects are scaled higher than others. For VCE, Specialist Mathematics is scaled higher than Mathematical Methods (CAS). This means if you get the same study score for both subjects, when scaled, Specialist Mathematics will give you a higher study score.

It may be a good idea to focus on the subjects that are scaled higher.

Play to your strengths –

Playing to your strengths means focusing on the subjects required for your course. Some courses require a certain study score in order to be eligible. This means if you are doing a subject which you are not really good at, but it is required for your course, you should spend more time on it so that you can improve. You may be good at another, but it may have a low scaling or is non-compulsory. Therefore, it is a better idea to focus on the more “important” subjects.

A final word:

The final year of school passes very quickly, but at times it can feel like a drag. It is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when you are just living from assessment to assessment. Whilst it is important you study for your assessments, you need to know what you are studying for.

Goals and Motivation

Set a goal to work towards throughout the year – this may be the course you wish to get into. It serves as motivation for all your studies. Whenever you get tired of studying for a subject or you are stressed, take a breath and remember that all this work you are putting in now goes towards achieving your goal.

Useful links:

http://umatpracticequestions.com.au/

Lowering UMAT exam anxiety

Lowering your UMAT exam anxiety

Let’s face it. From here on in, we will be surrounded by exams, the UMAT, end of year 12 exams, not to mention all the University exams looming not so far into the future. So with all these exams, it is important to develop techniques to reduce and deal with UMAT anxiety. Below are some helpful techniques to help you deal with anxiety in the lead up to the UMAT.

Set up a UMAT study group

Studying with others is an effective way of lowering UMAT anxiety. However, the people you choose to be in your study group influence how effectively the study group will function. Be wary of choosing your friends to be part of your UMAT study group as you may get easily distracted and lose sight of your purpose. Instead, choose people with similar goals and aspirations as you.

Plan a revision schedule for school and UMAT

Make sure you include all your extra-curricular activities such as work commitments. You also need to allocate time for re-revision and going over any areas of the UMAT exam that you are unsure of. The key part of making a revision schedule work is ensuring that the goals you hope to achieve are manageable and realistic.

Planning a UMAT study sessions with breaks

Set a goal for each UMAT study session. Breaking down revision into more manageable goals makes revising less overwhelming. Most people can only concentrate for 20 minutes. Once you fail to absorb any more information, it’s time for a break. Short frequent study periods with breaks helps retention and recall.

Also, half hour time slots are useful for quick revision. If it takes a half hour train trip to get to school in the morning, why not try to work through some UMAT questions you have been having difficulty with or memorising techniques that will be useful for answering certain types of UMAT questions.

Find out the exam details

This will make you feel more comfortable before actually sitting down to do the UMAT. If you learn the details before hand, you won’t be thrown on the day.

Find out what to do if you get stuck on a UMAT question.

If you get stuck on a question during the UMAT, your anxiety level will rise. Fortunately, the UMAT consists of multiple choice questions. If you get stuck, choose an answer, mark the question and move on. If you have time at the end, go back and try to work through the question again. If you run out of time, at least you have a 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 chance of getting the right answer. Don’t let being unsure throw you, the answer is there, you just have to deduce which one it is.

 

Interested in studying Medicine?

If you are, then you need to sit the UMAT. The UMAT (Undergraduate Medicine and Health Sciences Admissions) test is required for entry into most undergraduate medical courses and health science courses.

The UMAT is not a test of knowledge. It tests your skills in three different areas: Logical reasoning and problem solving, understanding people and non-verbal reasoning. These three areas used to be divided into three separately timed sections and completed sequentially during the exam.

However, since last year, questions from the all three areas have been mixed together to form one large exam. This change actually makes the test harder, so it is even more important now to go into the UMAT with an effective test taking strategy.

Should you prepare for the UMAT?

Would you go into your end of year exams without preparing? Entrance into some universities usually have 3 equally weighted criteria: your UMAT score, ATAR score and performance in an interview. So your UMAT score actually plays a significant role as to whether you get into medicine. 

Even though the UMAT isn’t knowledge based, you can dramatically improve your scores by learning new thought processes and familiarising yourself with the types of questions. This will also lower your nervoursness on the day, because you have already encountered UMAT-styled questions. Many other students are treating UMAT preparation as another school subject, except it has an exam earlier in the year! You’ll be at a huge disadvantage if you don’t prepare yourself.

In fact, UMAT prep is even more important now with the new changes to UMAT. Speed reading, and learning how to decode patterns quickly are essential to doing well in the UMAT.

UMAT Study

How to study more effectively for the UMAT

Here are some helpful  tips to help you keep motivated, able to concentrate, at your peak and ready to achieve your UMAT goal.

  • Exercise before you work. Do at least 20 minutes of aerobic exercise before sitting down to do any sort of study or work (particularly for UMAT study). This is not just helpful for UMAT preparation but for general schooling as well. Being in better physical health will improve your ability to concentrate, focus for longer and think faster than those who do not get regular exercise.
  • Prepare your space. Find a place where you can stay focused for a prolonged period of time. Make sure all the tools you require are in your space for UMAT study: that way you don’t waste valuable study time looking for them. There should also be good lighting, and a desk or table with an upright chair to work at to help you focus. It’s important that this place is away from all distractions like TV, ipods and phones. Not having a properly prepared study place is a major time wasting problem for many students preparing to sit tests like the UMAT.
  • Sit up straight and look at your work head on. You will find you are able to study much more effectively when you are directly facing your book or paper rather than having it on an angle. Never lie on your bed for UMAT study. You will either doze off or work less effectively.
  • Take five minute breaks. Whenever you start to feel fatigued, take a quick break. A five minute break gives you enough time to get a snack or a drink or take a breather. This short break will provide you with an energy boost to keep studying for the UMAT. However, it is important that you limit your breaks to no more than five minutes. Don’t get carried away checking Facebook or watching your favourite TV show. There will be plenty of time for that after you complete the UMAT and at the end of the year.

For more great study tips check out the UMAT preparation courses.